Book I, Part XI

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"Easy," Verbena ordered Doctor Spenard as he helped lower Al into the chair.
Al's fingers tensed on the doctor's shoulder, but, otherwise, he showed no
outward signs of discomfort. "You still with us, Al?" she asked as she
adjusted the IV.

Her back was to him, so Al sought connection with Beth's gaze instead, as if
needing reassurance that he was, indeed, conscious. It was only her and that
steady stream of strength keeping him afloat. "Still here," he confirmed
between gritted teeth.

Verbena made the last of her adjustments and then turned back to him. "Then,
come on. We'd better get moving."

The dizziness as they set the chair in motion was overwhelming and he closed
his eyes and leaned forward, using every ounce of his strength to remain
conscious. "Al?" he heard Beth call, but he didn't have the energy to respond.
"Wait," she said quickly. The progress slowed and stopped and he felt her
breath on his face. "Al? Are you okay?"

"Don't stop," he breathed. If they lost Sam, his life would be over anyway.

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

>From the moment the shot was fired, normal time resumed, even sped up some by
Sam's estimation. He leaned out of the line of fire, stumbled, and hit the
wall with such force that he wondered if he'd been shot after all. He lifted
his own weapon automatically in a reflex he hadn't owned before the first time
he'd stepped into the Accelerator. His own shot went wild, though, and he
missed his opponent by several feet.

Urgency struck a chord within him and he started to sweat. In a moment, he
could be outgunned.

Then the unexpected happened: Mary drew next to him and put a hand on his
shoulder. "If you can do it without the gun, I'll hold him back for you," she

If he could have spared her an amazed glance, he would have. Of the three
women he'd been trapped with, all of them had completely surprised him. "You

"You don't have much time," she reminded him.

He grinned slightly. "Good luck and be careful."

She nodded, taking the gun and maintaining a firm grip on it. "You, too."

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

The Control Room had been pretty much cleared out, a fact that left both Al
and Beth extremely grateful for Verbena's foresight. Only Gooshie remained,
and he excelled at being oblivious to his surroundings when he _wasn't_

Doctor Spenard remained in the Control Room with Gooshie, on hand in case
something should go wrong, but both women went into the Imaging Chamber with
Al, Verbena standing off to the side and Beth to Al's right. As much as she
wanted to touch him, she didn't because she didn't want to drain Ziggy any
more than they already would be. Al did seem much more aware of his
surroundings than he had previously been. Subtle hints of color tinged his
gray cheeks and his dark eyes had regained a great deal of life. Obviously,
the combination of Verbena's pain medication and the great necessity at hand
was doing him some measure of good.

"Picking up on the admiral's implant," Gooshie informed them via Ziggy's
surprisingly unsophisticated communication system.

Al glanced up towards Beth. "Why'd you take it out?" he asked, low and
controlled. He was fighting hard, she knew, to keep the blame and
disappointment from his voice, but he was tired and hurt in more ways than
one, and it was plain on his face.

"We thought you'd die if we didn't. Al, please, we had to."

He turned away from her. "It wouldn't have mattered," he whispered.

"Al, if you'd died-"

"It wouldn't have mattered," he said again. "Sam designed it so that even if
something happened to the observer, the implant would continue to function."

Her eyes widened.

"Initiating search..."

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

Sam started running and didn't look back. He heard several more shots, but
none of them seemed to come near him and he could only assume it was Mary,
giving him time to make his escape. As he rounded the corner, he came face-to-
face with Ron Simpson. He backed off involuntarily, and then shifted his
attention to Sherri.

Ron was holding tightly to her, pulling her arms back so that even struggling
would have been more detrimental to herself than him. His gun was pressed to
the back of her head, his finger caressing the trigger like he was savoring
the moment.

"This is unexpected," Ron said calmly. "We were on our way to meet Judge
Coleman at the front entrance. And now I see there's been a breakout?" 

"Let her go," Sam said firmly. The look in Sherri's eyes was that of
determination framed by a restrained fear.

"Or. What." Sam hesitated. "I can't keep my eyes on two of you; one has to

Sherri's breathing quickened and she started to squirm in Ron's grasp. A small
whimper escaped her lips and Sam looked worriedly at her; she had to be pretty
shaken up to be giving Ron any kind of clue as to her state of mind. "No,
please..." she whispered.

Ron looked down at the top of her head and Sam saw true regret in his eyes. "I
really hate to do this in front of you, hon, but a woman always makes a better
hostage than a man." He pulled the gun away from her head and aimed it at
Sam's. Sam wasn't quite certain what happened next but he immediately caught
on to the fact that Ron had been one-upped by Sherri. She kicked backwards
into his knee and he loosened his hold on her just enough for her to wrench
one arm free.

Just as she reached around behind her for something, Ron brought the gun back
up to her heart and Sam remembered Beth's prediction of her fate. He let out
an incoherent cry and ran into the fray.

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"Al, we didn't know." His eyes closed and she couldn't gauge if it was in pain
or disappointment or both. "I'm so sorry," she said quietly.

"Centering in on Doctor Beckett's last position."

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

He pushed the gun away from Sherri's form and found the barrel pressed against
his throat instead as Ron struggled.

"Gary!" she cried. Something flashed in the harsh lighting and Ron gasped in

They both stumbled back to see a letter opener - of all things - lodged in
Ron's side. The gun skittered noisily across the floor, skidding to a halt a
couple of feet from Sam's shoes. He dove for it even though Ron was still too
stunned to try and beat him to it.

He rose to his feet and aimed it at Ron, sparing a swift glance towards
Sherri. "You okay?"

She grinned at him. "Sure, but what's with the rusty armor and the mule?"

He grinned back. "Riding to your rescue?" he suggested hopefully. He should
have realized her panic was just an act.

She made a sound of exasperation. "Between you and that bone-headed
negotiator, I'm lucky I made it out of here alive."

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"Initiating connection," Gooshie's voice informed the small party.

Al took a breath and straightened slightly. Anticipation made the air weigh
heavy on their shoulders.


				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

"Is everyone else okay?"

Sam turned to see a police officer side-by-side with Mary. He smiled to see
her safe and sound.

"We've got a group out to look for Cindy already," she explained. 

He gratefully let the officer take over with Ron. "We're both fine," he
volunteered. "Right?" he added to Sherri.

Her cocky grin was muted and Sam saw a hint of necessary recovery time.
"Sure," she assured him. He hugged her warmly-

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"...He's gone."

				June, 1980
				Anchorage, AK

-And leaped.

				January, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

Verbena stared at Al's back, saw his shoulders sag as the weight hit home.
Beth was crying softly. The psychiatrist exited the Imaging Chamber. When she
saw Gooshie and Spenard, something in her gave way and all the incredibly
turbulent emotions she'd been holding back burst free.

"Al said the implant would've worked if he'd died, and I want to know why we
didn't know that!" she raged.

Gooshie virtually shrank. "I'm not sure, Doctor. I had no knowledge of that."

"Who the hell _did_ know? Donna? Tina? Sammy Jo?" Her pitch increased slightly
with each name mentioned.

"I - I'm not sure..."


"Admiral Calavicci's death was not an option," Ziggy replied calmly.

"You knew?!" Verbena demanded in a tone that made Gooshie want to hide all
screwdrivers, hacksaws, and hammers.

"There is a vital connection that would have been broken."

"Ziggy, if we'd had that piece of information, a lot of this could have been
avoided. We would have continued to look for other symptoms, and we may have
been able to save them both!"

And axes.

Verbena knew as well as any psychiatrist that when one ventured into the world
of "what if's", it 
was time to pull back and think objectively, but she just couldn't seem to do

"That may be true, Doctor, but it may not have been."

"That's crap and you know it! You don't call the shots around here, Ziggy, and
you'd better remember that next time." If she could have slammed a door on her
way out, she would have. Even without that final satisfaction, the atmosphere
in her wake was still one of solemn silence.


Al hadn't moved, hadn't spoken.

Beth drew back a step. "Al, I'm sorry," she said again quietly, desperately.
"We didn't know; no-one told us. I made the decision. I told them to do the
operation. It's my fault. Oh, Al, I'm sorry..."

He lifted his head, then, and met her tearful gaze. Loss was etched into each
line of his face and his dark eyes seemed hollow and empty. Whatever color had
returned to his complexion was gone again. "Sam..." he whispered. The blank
blue walls had no answer for him, betrayed him with their stillness. "Oh, God,

She drew back another half-step. "I'm sorry," she whispered again.

Recognition flitted across his expression and she could see both physical and
emotional agony were very soon going to be too much for him. "Come here."

She actually felt frightened to approach him, but she did, kneeling down in
front of him. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms about her with whatever
reserve of strength he had remaining, and let his head fall onto her shoulder.
She returned the embrace, needing to feel him close to her after so many
lonely hours in the infirmary. Still, the decision about the implant plagued
her and she once more whispered her regrets.

"Stop it," he murmured in her ear. "It's not your fault. Stop feeling guilty."
He paused and she shivered. "Beth, what am I gonna do?" he added in a strained

She tightened her hold on him, compensating for his weakness, but she didn't
have an answer. "I love you," was all she could say.

He started to cry.

+Sorry it took me so long to get this one out. It's the last part of book 1. I
hope to start posting book 2 (considerably shorter) by the end of the week.
Thanks! -amkt